We have characterized a Waymaker as one whose contributions to the law, legal process, or judicial administration reflect a pioneering, courageous, or influential spirit. The essence of that definition is embodied in the Honorable Gladys Kessler, a renowned member of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, who also received the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award in San Francisco in August. I was privileged to interview Judge Kessler in Washington, D.C., on June 26, 2013.
Judge Kessler is the epitome of integrity, intellect, determination, fairness, and grace. Early on, she knew that she wanted a career that would be “intellectually challenging for a lifetime.” The fabric of her priceless efforts both on and off the bench reflect a common theme: a relentless dedication to the rule of law and a vision that the law can be a vehicle for change. Judge Kessler is committed to fostering a sense of justice that seeks clarity and equality. Illustrative of her long career of service was her participation as founding member and first president of the Women’s Legal Defense Fund, which may have been the first national organization that legally advocated in favor of critical women’s rights issues; her long-time association with the National Association of Women Judges, for which she also served as its third president; judge on the D.C. Superior Court, where she served as presiding judge of the Family Division, and became the catalyst for major advances in the administration of family and juvenile cases and projects, and, presently, an outstanding jurist on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Circuit, where her numerous cases included an opinion upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.
Her presence on the bench has profoundly impacted the evolving stream of justice. She endeavors to make judges more cognizant of their judicial responsibility to the Constitution, the rule of law, and the importance of remaining in touch with the reality of people’s lives. Judge Kessler fearlessly followed the road less traveled with determination, humility, and a sense of purpose. The measure of her legacy is incalculable and inspiring.